If we ask for money, it means that we offer a new fellowship, a new brotherhood, a new sisterhood, a new way of belonging. We have something to offer— friendship, prayer, peace, love, fidelity, affection, ministry with those in need—and these things are so valuable that people are willing to make their resources available to sustain them.Henri Nouwen, A Spirituality of Fundraising
Elma Shugg, the chair of EPC’s Generosity and Stewardship committee, has been writing about stewardship for the past few months as we prepare for pledge season. Elma has done a great job of framing stewardship as a spiritual discipline and the blessings we receive (all that we have) as a gift from God. This month, I want to add my voice to hers by writing about fundraising, which is an aspect of stewardship, though not necessarily a popular one.
During stewardship season, we go out of our way to avoid talking exclusively about financial giving—for very good reasons. First, as the church, our primary focus is not money and we don’t want to get so caught up in watching our bank account that we forget about the gospel. Secondly, if we only give our money, but hold back giving our time and talents, much less our bodies, souls and passions, then we can be assured that our gifts will not bear good fruit.
Nevertheless, it is also true that Stewardship Sunday (November 17) in which we bring forward our pledges for the coming year, is a financial offering. That means that the talk leading up to it is a form of fundraising. We should not be ashamed that we need to raise money to keep the church running. But we should be sensitive to the fact that asking for money can raise people’s defenses.
We have all heard stories about televangelists who get rich because they know how to equate financial giving with faith, which will be rewarded with prosperity or a miracle of healing. Some of you may have been guilted into giving to the church in the past. Others may have given only to find that the money they gave was mismanaged. Money is a sensitive topic and, if not treated thoughtfully, it can cause way more problems than it can solve.
So, how can we talk about money without making people feel guilty or pressured or abused? I believe the answer is to acknowledge that financial giving is a ministry that we are all called too. And it doesn’t matter if we can give large sums or only the smallest amount. What matters is that when we give what we can, we are investing in a community. When we give our resources to a church, we are fully joining in what the church is doing because we believe it makes a difference. We don’t give out of guilt or in response to social pressure or in order to make our way into heaven. We give to the church financially out of our faith in the ministry here. We give because we believe that God is active here and, therefore, this is the most valuable investment we can make. That is the kind of giving that bears much fruit.
In order to facilitate that kind of faith in Emmanuel church it helps to articulate what the ministry and vision of Emmanuel church is. It’s also helpful to talk about how the money is being used and managed. What are our long-term goals as a church and what are the steps that we would like to take to get to that goal? These are all critical aspects of the fundraising part of stewardship as well. It seems clear that people will give financially to something they think is meaningful. Is Emmanuel church doing the kind of ministry that is worth pouring your resources into? Do you have questions about how the money is being spent? If you have concerns in these areas, let’s not be afraid to talk about it.
These are some of the questions we will make room for at the Congregational Luncheon after worship on November 3. We will probably only get to touch the surface of the topic. But it’s a conversation that should continue well into the years ahead.
Blessings, Pastor Jen